The new coronavirus known as Covid-19 is sweeping the world. It is almost impossible to turn on the TV or pull up your social media account without heartbreaking news stories and apocalyptic predictions hitting you in the face. Kind of feels like Round 5 with Connor McGregor! What about your beloved car? Is it putting you at risk, as well? Time to find out.
Covid-19 is stable on hard surfaces like plastics or stainless steel for up to 2-3 days, according to research. Disinfectants can destroy the virus, but only at appropriate concentrations for a sufficient length of time. Clean your car!
Covid-19 is new enough that we don’t have a lot of information yet. I can’t tell you how many people have been infected via their car, no one knows. Maybe none, maybe some.
The contraction point for many Covid-19 patients hasn’t even been identified yet much less quantified for us, so we have to take whatever information is available and make an educated guess.
Though we all know Covid-19 is much more serious than the traditional flu, they share many transmission characteristics. A study from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) determined that traveling in a car with a person infected with the flu can increase your chance of getting sick from 59% to 99.9%
Professor Lidia Morawska, director of QUT International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health noted that the risk of transmitting a virus over a 90-minute car ride with a sick person could actually be higher than traveling on a Boeing 747 for 17 hours with the same person.
This is where some of the information gets a little tricky. Since this is a new-to-us virus, scientists are still learning about the various transmission methods. This is what they think they know.
Airborne. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the primary manner of catching Covid-19 is by an infected individual coughing or sneezing. This releases small droplets from the nose or mouth which the uninfected can then breath in.
As these droplets are only able to travel about 1m (3 feet), this is the concept behind “social distancing”. To be safe, the recommended distance has been doubled to 2m or 6 feet.
Your car is waaaay smaller than 6’ between passengers. If Joe in the backseat coughs or sneezes, you WILL be getting some droplets your direction. Gross, but true.
An additional, but comparable transmission method is that the droplets land on a surface. The uninfected touch the surface, then touch their own face, transferring the virus to themselves.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that the virus is stable up to days on various surfaces. It found active Covid-19 virus particles after 4 hours on copper, after 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
No data is available for Covid-19 on soft surfaces like upholstery or carpet at this time. However, we do know that the flu virus, can live on porous soft surfaces for 8 to 12 hours and nonporous surfaces for 1-2 days. We have to assume Covid-19 can do at least as well.
How to keep our hard and soft car surfaces clean? Let’s look at the options.
The Covid-19 virus is only 0.125 microns in size. As a comparison, the period at the end of this sentence is about 400 microns. Do the math, that little period would hold about 3,200 viruses. This extremely small size is one of the difficulties in addressing the pandemic. How do you keep something to small out? Many filtration systems are simply not designed for this level of prevention. Even the well-known “HEPA filter” only filters down to a level of 0.3 microns. So, unless the virus is suspended in a droplet larger than 0.3 microns, it will slip right through the filter.
If we can’t keep it out of the car, we need to remove it from inside the car. Maybe a disinfectant is the best way to go.
Covid-19 virus is actually easier to kill than most viruses. It is surrounded by a fat layer that, when dissolved, leaves the virus unprotected and it dies quickly. Fats break down easily in soap and hot water.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend cleaning all surfaces in your home or car frequently with soap and water. You can also use a diluted household bleach solution made up of 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. They also note that household disinfectants can be utilized. Which ones work best?
Ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Solutions containing 62%-71% of ethyl alcohol reduce effectivity of the coronavirus within 1 minute, according to Science Direct.
Hydrogen Peroxide. Also, in the 1-minute league are solutions containing 0.5% hydrogen peroxide. Sodium Hypochlorite. This is the primary ingredient in laundry bleach. A solution containing 0.1% of this strong chemical also is effective against the coronavirus within 1 minute.
Though all of these choices work great, I wouldn’t use them on my car upholstery! Better options might be some of the commercial disinfects.
Commercial disinfectants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made a list of various disinfectants and the amount of time they must be on the surface to be effective. None are designed specifically for Covid-19. Solutions must be prepared at appropriate strengths, so that information has been provided. Some of the best-known disinfectants are listed below:
Please note that these disinfectants are designed for plastics and hard surfaces. Carpets and upholstery may stain. If you choose to try any of these commercial or DIY solutions, check a hidden portion first to make sure you don’t destroy what you’re trying to clean!
If you want to clean your carpet or car upholstery and are concerned about using one of the commercial brands above, most viruses are susceptible to soap and heat. Try to steam clean those areas with regular soap (any brand is fine) and hot water (above 140-150°F or 60-65.5°C).
How do you know what needs to be cleaned and what doesn’t? I’m so glad you asked. Below are the different parts of a car. CNN shared a report from Expedia Car Rental that found steering wheels have 4x more germs than a public toilet seat and 6x more than your cell phone!
No studies have been conducted on Covid-19 specifically, but we can make some logical guesses by looking where germs are found most frequently overall.
A scientific study, published in Biofouling magazine in 2014, swabbed 18 cars in the Ford Motor Company employee fleet. The swabs were then cultured, and number of individual bacterial colonies are identified below:
A different study, commissioned by NetQuote, swabbed the surfaces of cabs, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft and rental cars. These were then compared to different household items. The comparisons are based in colony units found within a square inch (CFU).Source: https://www.netquote.com/health-insurance/health-insurance-articles/driving-with-germs
As you can see, ridesharing options have the highest germ/bacteria levels by far. So, what to do if that is your only option? Anti-bacterial wipes. The dirtiest portions of the rideshare vehicles tested were the seatbelts, door handles and window switches. Wipe all of that down with a good anti-bacterial wipe prior to touching them. As noted earlier, some of these wipes will destroy Covid-19 in less than 30 seconds. Don’t forget to use hand sanitizer immediately afterward, just in case.
Ironically, it was the backseat that was found to be the dirtiest. Another option might be to ride in front with the driver, if you’re comfortable with that concept.
Ridesharing vehicles have been found to have 3x more germs than rental cars and 219x more germs than a taxi. Why? Because rental cars and taxis are on a generalized cleaning schedule, where ridesharing vehicles are usually privately owned, so they aren’t cleaned as often.
Makes you think about how clean your own car is, doesn’t it?
This article is designed to provide good, general information not only this specific virus, but germs and bacteria in your vehicle overall. It is logical to assume if there is a heavy bacterial or germ presence, that viruses, including Covid-19 are present as well. Your car is your baby. Treat her right and keep her clean. It’s good for her and very good for your health.